2855 Perry Road, Building 8, Liberty Station
I lurked for months, surveying the perpetual construction and interminable delays that come with opening a new restaurant in San Diego. I watched in anticipation while huge wood burning grills were installed. I speculated endlessly about the menu when I heard that Chef Antonio Friscia (Stingaree Nightclub & Guest House, Gaijin Noodle & Sake House, Don Chido, Rustic Root) would be at the helm in the kitchen. As a big fan of both Chef Friscia and the Patio Group, was I setting my expectations for the newly opened Fireside by the Patio in Liberty Station too high?
I’ve been there twice now, and the answer is “no.” First off, it’s beautiful. The majority of the dining area is outside, cleverly combining areas of intimate banquettes with long, gorgeous wood tables suitable for large groups or communal dining. The indoor bar takes up one entire wall, the towering ceilings softened by big manzanita branches strung in tiny white lights. At the far end of the bar doors open to yet another outdoor area. This one has tons of bar space, cozy booths, comfy sofas, and wide weathered lawn chairs.
Those wood burning grills get put to good use — almost everything on the menu contains at least one ingredient that’s spent time on the fire. Take my cocktail, called Not Your Grand Pappy’s Gibson. Orange peels are flamed and then infused into London dry gin, providing a heady sweet orange aroma to balance the herbal bite of the gin. The house-pickled onion was a tangy, juicy finish. House-made goat cheese from locally sourced milk and marinated in olive oil and herbes de Provence was a perfect accompaniment.
Chef Friscia’s long time right-hand woman, Fern Tran, presides over the yakitori bar, serving up skewers of plump chicken thigh, smoky king trumpet mushrooms, or miniature roulades of thinly sliced pork belly rolled around house made kimchi, basted and charred. Succulent pork belly also gets a turned up buffalo-style treatment. Crispy squares bathe in a swirl of blue cheese vinaigrette under a topping of pickled sliced celery and julienned carrot. Different and delicious.
Check the blackboard for the daily specials, served after 4:30 p.m.: slow-cooked meats sold by the half pound. Using red oak instead of hickory or mesquite gives a subtly sweet smoky essence. “We aren’t after a heavy smoke like a Texas barbecue here. We wanted something lighter to highlight the meat’s flavor,” explains Friscia. The espresso rubbed brisket was moist and melt-in-your-mouth tender, not mushy. A daily special of smoked bone marrow drizzled with sun-dried tomato chimichurri was delectable on hearty malted brown toast.
Sides are thoughtfully done. Cheddar cornbread and orange-mascarpone butter is a natural alongside smoked meats. Peruvian potatoes pair with charred green beans for a sophisticated twist on plain old potato salad. Smoked tomatoes sweeten braised collard greens, and the leftovers make a fine frittata the next morning.